Chapter 1 takes place in a contemporary setting, as thirteen-year-old Hannah is riding with her family to her grandparents' house in the Bronx to celebrate the Jewish feast of Seder. She is not happy about going, but her mother reminds her of the purpose of the holiday, which is "remembering".
In Chapter 2, the family arrives at the house, where Grandpa Will is shouting angrily at the television, which is showing footage of the Nazi concentration camps. Grandpa Will frequently has "fits" like this, and family members tell Hannah it is because he was in the camps during the War. Hannah cannot understand why Grandpa cannot leave the past behind.
During the Seder celebration in Chapter 3, Grandpa Will "drone(s) on and on about the plagues and the exodus from Egypt". Hannah's little brother Aaron reads the "Second Question" from scripture, and rituals and games are performed for the purposes of fellowship and to teach the young about rich Jewish traditions. This year, because she is thirteen, Hannah is allowed to drink the wine and is chosen to "open the door to Elijah...and invite him in".
In Chapter 4, Hannah opens the door to greet the prophet and finds herself mysteriously transported back in time to Poland in the 1940s. She is now called Chaya, and is living with her Aunt Gitl and Uncle Shmuel on a village farm. Preparations are being made for Shmuel's wedding which will be held on the following day.